It’s true that there’s top-quality skiing to be had in many parts of Europe – and many parts of the Alps. However, for French Alps skiing with that added x-factor, you really can’t beat the resort of Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc. Centered around the village of Saint-Gervais-les-Bains in south-eastern France, a short distance from both the Swiss and Italian borders, many parts of the resort’s two ski areas offer unparalleled views of the majestic Mont Blanc.
At roughly 4,808 meters, it’s the highest peak in the Alps and in Western Europe. In fact, the very summit of Mont-Blanc is part of the city of Saint-Gervais. One of the resort’s main draws in both summer and winter is the famous Mont Blanc Tramway, a rack and pinion railway that’s France’s highest. Completed in 1914, it serves 13 different stations up to a maximum altitude of 2,372 meters. In wintertime, it goes as far as the plateau de Bellevue, where there are opportunities for cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing, amongst other winter sports.
Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc’s main focus during the winter season is, as befits the third largest French Alps skiing resort in terms of skiable area, downhill skiing. Thankfully, the resort is somewhat less crowded than some of its neighbours. You’ll soon see that whilst its facilities are the equal of other Alpine resorts, it generally manages to avoid the crowds that so often plague other, better-known winter sports destinations. It all contributes in creating a stress-free atmosphere where you can concentrate on perfecting your on-piste techniques rather than fuming in seemingly endless queues.
In total, there are some 445km of pistes, which are shared between two different ski areas. The biggest area is called the Domaine Evasion Mont Blanc (in which you’ll find the Domaine Saint Gervais Mont Blanc). One notable aspect of this ski area is that it links into no fewer than 7 different Alpine ski resorts. Naturally, there’s a good spread of pistes that will cater to just about all abilities. To be specific, there are 230 different slopes divided into:
Serving these slopes are 108 lifts of varying types including surface lifts, chairlifts, gondola lifts and even a cable car. And that’s not to forget some 900 snow-makers, ready to spring into action should the need arise.
In addition to downhill skiing, in Saint-Gervais ski resort, there are 3 different cross-country skiing trails (20km/12 miles), where you can enjoy skiing through beautiful forested areas and plateaux (not to mention the opportunity to ski by night on a specially-prepared trail). And there’s something for snowboarders and freestyle skiers too in the shape of two snowparks.
The second ski area that’s associated with Saint-Gervais-les-Bains is the “Saint Gervais – Les Houches” ski resort. This is a much smaller ski area than Evasion Mont-Blanc, but it more than makes up for that with the sheer variety of facilities and things to do. As in its bigger counterpart, there’s downhill skiing in the shape of:
There’s also a snowpark, some cross-country skiing trails and even a ski jump! This particular ski area is well-known for being a training ground for members of the French national skiing team and is often used to host international sporting events. One of the black slopes is still used for the famous international race “Kandahar” (one of the Alpine Ski World Cup venues), the iconic ‘Verte des Houches’, called ‘verte’ (green) not for the category of piste but for the pine trees along the route.
In our ultra-connected, 24/7 world, it’s nice to see that French Alps skiing destinations aren’t being left behind in the tech race. Whether it’s about convenience on the slopes or winning social media brownie points, Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc has got your back! To begin with, the lower gondola lift station boasts no fewer than 97 ski lockers. So what, I hear you say… Well, these aren’t just any ordinary ski lockers. If you’ve got a smartphone, you can book these lockers in a matter of minutes – for however long you need them: a day, a week, or longer if required. They’re roomy enough to fit five sets of skis along with all the rest of your kit such as helmets, boots and gloves. They don’t just provide a safe holding place for your ski equipment, they also dry them out and warm them up, ready for your next day’s outing on the slopes.
On a less practical, but definitely cooler note are two pieces of tech that will help you boost your follower count or just enable you to show off to your friends and family who haven’t had the good luck to be on holiday in Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc! The first of these is the ‘Photo Hot Spots’. It consists in two high definition cameras that are located, at the summit of Mont-Joux and on the Epaule chairlift – perfect for taking amazing selfies in a chairlift or with the Mont-Blanc mountain range in the backdrop. Secondly, head to the snowboard cross course and you’ll come across the ‘Videozone’. As its name suggests, this bit of kit takes videos of your straight airs, spins, grabs and the like and then sends them (free of charge) to your email account.
Of course, not all tech is about your social media profile. The Saint Gervais Mont Blanc app is a thoroughly practical solution that will provide you with lots of handy information about the resort itself. On top of that, it will enable you to keep track of certain key statistics, including your position, the itinerary you’ve taken, the speeds you’ve achieved and your descent.
Saint Gervais Mont Blanc’s extensive network of green slopes makes it ideal for novice skiers and families with younger children. The large number of ski schools, some of which cater to wannabee skiing stars as young as 3 years old, is an additional bonus. The schools are used to an international clientele so it’s quite easy to find English-speaking instructors.
If your little ones want a break from skiing lessons, Charlotte the marmot’s play and picnic area, located directly on the slopes, are the ideal spots for them. Special activities are put on for children during holiday periods.
Unlike some other Alpine ski resorts, Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc’s apres-ski scene is fairly quiet – there are no rows upon rows of noisy clubs and pubs here, just a range of pleasant eateries and cafes.
Anyone who’s ever travelled with kids knows that it’s not always the easiest of all experiences. Luckily, Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc boasts very convenient transport links with the rest of France (via the train station at Le Fayet and the A40 motorway) and other parts of Europe (Geneva airport is less than 40 miles from Saint-Gervais-les-Bains).
In addition to a great selection of challenging slopes, Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc offers a range of exciting non-skiing experiences that’ll soon have your adrenalin pumping. Some of these are available all year round, some are reserved for either the summer or winter seasons.
When the snow’s still on the ground, but you’re tired of skiing, why not try an alternative winter sport? You can pick from sledding, snow tubing and a ride on a sled pulled by huskies for a start. Then, there’s mountaineering, including ice climbing for example. Many of these more technically-challenging activities are supervised by professional guides such as Saint Gervais mountain guides, in existence since 1864.
Most French Alps skiing locations also offer sporting activities that aren’t snow-dependent at all. The geography of the Alps makes them an amazing place to try out certain aerial leisure pursuits, and at Saint-Gervais both paragliding and hang-gliding can be experienced right throughout the year, meaning you can enjoy spectacular bird’s eye views that change radically depending on the season. Why not fly through the air in a slightly different way, either by trying out one of two ziplines (160 and 180 metres long), which are part of a tree-top adventure course, or else something even more hair-raising – a bungee jump! The Saint-Gervais jump is located under the bridge over the Bonnant gorge. This sheltered location means jumps can go ahead in weather conditions (rain, snow), that might otherwise lead to cancellation. The 65-meter jump gives you four seconds of freefall!
After all that, you’ll probably need to chill for a bit! This is where one of Saint-Gervais’ top attractions really comes into its own. The local spa has been around for over two hundred years – testament to its popularity and the beneficial qualities of the hot springs in the Gorges du Bonnant that supply this establishment. Now owned by L’Oreal, Saint-Gervais thermal baths offer a range of wonderfully relaxing treatments and facilities:
What do you do if you find yourself in a French Alps skiing resort but aren’t actually a skier, or particularly sporty in any way? In that case, all is not lost! The village of Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc itself is a beautiful place to simply stroll around. There’s plenty of stunning turn-of-the-century architecture – a reminder of the area’s popularity with the cream of European society towards the end of the 19th century. One lovely example dating from this time is the old Hotel du Mont Joly, which lends a real air of elegance to the town.
The other key architectural sights include the many beautiful churches and chapels dotted around the area. The church of Saint-Gervais is a glorious example of baroque architecture, all the more beautiful for having been completely restored only a few years ago. It was built at the end of the 17th century and is also well-known for its lovely frescoes. A little to the north of the town center lies another church in an equally striking, but completely different style, the church of Notre Dame des Alpes (Le Fayet). The design for this modern, 1930s church drew on local chalets for its inspiration. Its stained glass windows are well worth a look.
If you’re particularly interested in the subject, then the church of Saint-Nicolas-de-Véroce is a must. It’s a beautiful baroque building in itself, but to boot, it’s located right beside the museum of religious art (Musée d’Art Sacré). This museum helps put what you can see in the different religious buildings around the resort into context. Around 50 items are displayed in what used to be the priest’s house. These range from wooden sculptures to pieces of silverwork, gold ornaments and paintings dating from the 1500s to the 1800s. If you also enjoy walking, you can even combine two interests in one by following one of the themed heritage trails focusing on Baroque heritage in the area.
So, whatever makes you tick, a French Alps skiing holiday in Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc will certainly have plenty to keep you entertained!
The ski area of Les Houches / Saint Gervais extends from an altitude of 950m to 1900m. From the summit one has a spectacular 360° view of the Mont-Blanc massive. And with 55 km of slopes meandering through the forests, you will discover the real pleasures...